By Janet Groene, F47166
No, this column isn’t about the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit, but a magic number that for many full-timers means the beginning of a drop in expenses as they grow older. Although past surveys I’ve done for this column revealed that the age range for full-timers starts at 4 and extends into the mid-90s, the median age is in the low 60s. Did you know that some senior discounts kick in as early as age 50? How would you like to pay less for food, restaurants, admission to movies and other events, and even fuel? Incredibly, most people don’t even know about the huge harvest of senior savings that exist, let alone how to harness them. Here’s how you can make the most of your age.
- The most important thing to know is that discounts aren’t automatic just because you look middle-aged or have gray hair. In fact, most clerks are so afraid of insulting customers by offering a senior discount that they never volunteer it. You have to ask for it.
- Understand how the deal works, including how old you must be and what you have to do to get the discount. You may qualify if you’re 50, or you may have to be 70. In some instances, you must request the discount at the time you order the meal or when you reserve the campsite. Many stores and hairdressers give a senior discount only on certain days, such as Tuesdays, or the first Wednesday of the month. Some give the discount only on full-price purchases; sale merchandise isn’t discounted.
- Do your homework. Some discounts are not only unadvertised, they’re almost a secret. Keep a notebook listing discounts found regularly at your favorite fast-food chains, department stores, beauty salons, and the like. A few begin when you turn 50 and more are added as you reach the ages of 55, 60, and 62. By age 65, it’s a safe bet that you are eligible for all senior discounts. Imagine using a ski lift for half price, paying $3 less for your haircuts, or getting a 10 percent discount on oil changes.
- At most banks and other thrifts, seniors 50 and older can get a fee-free checking account and perhaps one book of free checks per year. Other perks may include interest on checking; preferred auto loan rates; a premium rate on certificates of deposit; and a free or discounted safety deposit box. Some small, local banks have seniors clubs with group outings, trips, and social meetings with refreshments. Shop around and consider opening multiple accounts, taking advantage of the best features at two or more banks. To get the bank’s senior citizen discount, you may have to maintain a minimum balance.
- It may pay to join AARP solely for the discounts that are available to its members. Because you can join at age 50 and your spouse of any age gets the same discounts, these are savings you can’t get any other way. However, many AARP discounts, such as hotels and rental cars, aren’t of interest to full-timers, and their pharmacy rates aren’t the best to be found. Go to www.aarp.org and look over the list of membership advantages to decide whether or not this group is for you.
- Be prepared to show your proof of age in the event it is requested when you ask for a senior discount. You also may need a membership card in “clubs” that you join for free or a token fee. Applebee’s restaurant chain, for example, offers a free Apple Card to folks 55 and older; Old Country and Home Town buffet restaurants invite seniors 60 and older to join their Senior Club for $1 a year. Bealls Outlet stores, which sell clothing, gifts, and housewares in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona, issues a free Monday Club Card to people 55 and older.
- In addition to store or restaurant discount cards, some cards apply to an entire region. Ohio, for example, offers the Golden Buckeye Card. With it, senior residents can receive discounts on prescription drugs from most pharmacies, as well as deals on many other services and products from participating companies. In Boulder, Colorado, residents can receive a senior card that is good for discounts on everything from attorneys to zoo admission, with no strings attached.
These cards are simply a win-win situation — the senior gets a price break and the merchant gets the additional traffic and goodwill that comes from participating in the program. Each business sets its own policy regarding age and the amount of the discount, which is usually between 5 and 20 percent. If you’re going to stay in one town for a while, ask about similar types of cards at the community’s Council on Aging, chamber of commerce, or senior citizen center.
- As a traveler, you may not be aware of local discounts. So, buy the town newspapers on Wednesday or Thursday when grocery store advertisements run, and pick up all the free papers, shoppers, and senior citizen tabloids you see. When you go to a supermarket, stop first at the customer service counter and ask if a senior discount is available, or whether a special shopper’s card will save you money. At malls, visit the customer service office to learn about any special discounts. Many malls hand out booklets that include coupons for a different deal in each store. Pop into beauty salons and ask if they have a senior citizen day. Go to www.seniordiscounts.com and search for discounts by city. The key to finding these discounts is to ask, ask, ask.
- Motorhomers who have visited national parks know that an annual pass or daily entry fee is required to gain access. If you’re under 62 and plan to visit several national parks in a one-year time frame, the best deal is to purchase an annual pass for $50 plus $3.95 shipping from the National Park Foundation, P.O. Box 34108, Washington, DC 20043; (888) 467-2757. A Golden Eagle hologram, purchased for an additional $15, can be affixed to the pass for admission to other government lands, such as those run by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. These passes are good for one year.
As soon as you’re 62, apply in person at any federal area for the Golden Age Passport, which is a lifetime pass good at all U.S. national parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas, and national wildlife refuges that charge an entrance fee. The passport admits the pass holder and any accompanying passengers in a private vehicle for free. When a per-person entrance fee is charged, the passport admits the pass signee, spouse, and children. It also is good for a 50 percent discount on federal use fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, parking, boat launching, and tours. A one-time $10 processing fee is charged to obtain the Golden Age Passport.
- Most states offer a senior discount on state park admission fees, fishing and hunting licenses, and sometimes on camping fees. You may have to buy an annual pass to get the discount, and some discounts apply only to residents of that state. Ask as you go.
- Not all members of the same restaurant or retail chain have the same policies regarding senior discounts. Discounts are at the option of the individual franchise owner. Always ask. The discount you received at a Wendy’s or McDonald’s in California may be different from that offered by a same-name restaurant in Georgia.
- If you’re shy about asking for a senior discount, phone ahead. Make sure you understand all the rules, and get the name of the person you talked to, just in case you are told something different once you arrive.
- When buying admission tickets to movies or other events, note the venue’s senior discount policies, which usually are posted. These special prices aren’t automatic, so when purchasing your tickets make sure to use a phrase such as “One senior, one adult” or “Two seniors.”
- Scams against seniors are quite common, so don’t let yourself be swindled by a friendly, smooth-talking salesperson. When dealing with services such as repairs or carpet cleaning, where it’s easy for the person who provides the estimate to hike the price before giving the discount, get a price in writing first; then, ask about a senior discount.
- Two nationwide service chains that offer senior discounts are Midas and Jiffy Lube.
- Don’t expect to double-dip discounts. Only rarely will you get a senior discount in addition to a coupon deal, or a senior discount plus the bargain price you receive as a member of some group. Often, coupons found in newspapers are a better deal than a senior discount of 10 to 15 percent. You should never stop searching, comparing, and questioning.
- Help create a climate that won’t ruin things for those who will follow you down the golden brick road. Patronize businesses that give discounts and thank them for doing so. If the server has given terrific service, make sure to tip on the full price of the meal, not the discounted price. Don’t be an old codger, complaining about how inexpensive things used to be. Inflation happens, so get over it.
- Finally, if a company’s policy isn’t what you expected, quietly acquiesce and take your business elsewhere the next time. No law requires businesses to give senior discounts. If there is no benefit to them, they can easily change or rescind the discount policy. Airlines have already cut back or eliminated senior discounts, and some young activists are calling for the cessation of all age-based privileges. Help keep the boat afloat — don’t rock it.
Let us know your ideas
What senior discounts have you discovered? Please share the full details, including age requirements; what you have to do to get the discount; and the benefits and drawbacks you have discovered with the deal. I’ll select several favorites and include them in a future “Full-Timer’s Primer” column. E-mail your tips to firstname.lastname@example.org or send them to Janet Groene, Family Motor Coaching, 8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244.